OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's ruling Republicans bemoaned the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow the federal tax subsidies in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, but some of the nearly 90,000 Oklahomans who receive the subsidies to make health insurance more affordable welcomed the ruling.
Oklahoma is one of 34 states where the subsidies were threatened because it didn't set up a state-based health insurance marketplace. Oklahoma residents purchased their insurance through a federal exchange. Opponents of the law argued that it was worded in such a way that subsidies were allowed only for those using state-run exchanges. The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the subsidies could continue in states with federal exchanges.
In Oklahoma, more than 87,000 low- and moderate-income workers receive an estimated $18 million in federal tax subsidies to help pay for health insurance, with the average enrollee receiving a tax credit of about $209, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a clearinghouse for information on the health care system.
Kelli Nicole Smith, a 26-year-old baker who earns $11 an hour at a sweetshop in Norman, said she was relieved to learn she would still receive a $99 subsidy that she used to purchase a health insurance plan through the federal marketplace. Without the subsidy, Smith said she probably would have considered buying less healthy food or giving up her phone.
"I would have choices, but they wouldn't be comfortable," said Smith, who ends up paying about $60 a month out of pocket for a plan with relatively high co-pays, including $500 for an emergency room visit. "Or I would have to consider finding a job that maybe pays more that I don't really want to do.
"I'm grateful for Obamacare. I know people get upset about it, but I don't think they've necessarily been in the shoes of someone who is lower-to-middle working class that has to deal with this kind of stuff."
If the subsidies were not available in Oklahoma, the Kaiser Foundation reports the average health care premium would increase by about 243 percent.
Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who filed a lawsuit challenging the subsidies that was similar to the one considered by the Supreme Court, said he was disappointed in the court's ruling.
GOP Gov. Mary Fallin said the decision means taxpayers are "stuck with a law that is deeply flawed, disruptive to the lives of American families and a destructive force in our economy."
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said he wants fellow Republicans in Congress to use the federal budgeting process as a tool to dismantle it.
"Despite this ruling, my colleagues and I remain committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered reforms that will reduce the cost of care such that subsidies are not required to make health insurance affordable," Inhofe said in a statement.
The head of the Oklahoma Hospital Association said Thursday's ruling was good news for the health care of the entire state.
"Because of subsidies provided by the (Affordable Care Act), hard-working Oklahomans who are sick, need care for chronic conditions, or want preventive care have been able to seek care more easily," OHA President Craig Jones said in a statement. "Providing access to primary and preventive care helps improve the health and well-being of individuals, family and communities as a whole and is good for our state."
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